Multilingual marketing, localisation and SEO
English has emerged as the global language of commerce and the lingua franca of the internet, but it’s worth pointing out that three quarters of the world’s population speaks no English whatsoever.
So the need for businesses to speak to international consumers in their own tongue can’t be overemphasised. Even though English is the most widely spoken second language, the fact remains that most consumers will search for services/products in their mother tongue first.
So for any business looking to go global, the need to ‘think local’ means you should consider the multitude of cultural and linguistic complexities that you will face when entering new, emerging markets.
For example, the French in France and the French in Canada (Québéquois) is largely the same, but there are enough dialectal distinctions between the two forms of French to mean that separate marketing strategies are essential when targeting each market.
By way of illustration, ‘email’ is simply email in France, but in Canadian French it is courrier électronique (literally, ‘electronic mail’). And déjeuner means ‘lunch’ in France, but ‘breakfast’ in Switzerland and Belgium.
There are many such differences between the French dialects in France, Canada, Switzerland and Belgium which help to highlight the importance of properly localizing your services for each specific target market. The same can also be said for German (Germany)/Swiss German, Portuguese (Portugal)/Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish (Spain)/Latin American Spanish and, closer to home, US/UK English.
How to localize your SEO
So assuming you intend to properly localize your website for international markets, there are a number of issues you must consider when optimizing the content so that you gain as high a position on search engines as possible.
Firstly, there is the domain name. Your choice of name is entirely up to you, though you may want to consider something that is suitable for the country that you’re targeting – your brand name may work just as well abroad, but you are best using the services of a specialist translation/localisation company who can research any potential negative connotations of your name in your target market.
Equally important is your choice of web host as the server they use should be located in your target country – Google considers the IP address of the server in its algorithms, so make sure you ask where their server is based before committing to using their services.
Then there is the issue of keywords. There is a strong argument that says you should NEVER translate keywords, simply because even a direct dictionary translation may not be what people use to search for a service or product locally. They may use colloquialisms, abbreviations or acronyms instead.
In the same way as you would use something like Google’s keyword tool when identifying the most popular industry keywords in English, you should thoroughly research the key search phrases that are incorporated into your new foreign language website too.
Localisation and SEO should underpin any international online marketing strategy, as it will not only help ensure linguistic and cultural nuances don’t impede your entry into new markets, but also your visibility is maximized on foreign search engines.